The public audit agencies, the National Audit Office, the Northern Ireland Audit Office, the Audit Commission for Local Authorities and the National Health Service in England, the Wales Audit Office and Audit Scotland have established the Public Audit Forum to provide a focus for developmental thinking in relation to public audit. The main role of the Forum is consultative and advisory. It is not able to direct the national audit agencies and other bodies involved in public audit.
Specific elements of the Forum’s remit are to:
- provide a strategic focus on issues cutting across the work of the national audit agencies;
- build visibly on the existing co-operation between the national audit agencies to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of public audit, whilst, in all matters, respecting the statutorily and constitutionally independent status of the agencies in the selection, execution and reporting of their work and in determining how this work should be organised and staffed;
- establish definitions of what constitutes public audit in as far as this differs from and goes beyond the current interpretation of company audit;
- advise on the application of standards and the practices of the auditors of bodies delivering public services, including on the quality of service to be provided to such audited bodies, having regard to the statements issued by the Auditing Practices Board;
- develop standards for use by auditors of bodies delivering public services where none have been issued by the Auditing Practices Board;
- advise on the resolution of common technical problems and disseminate good and innovative practice in tackling common issues; and
- provide the considered view of the national audit agencies on any developments or proposals which impact on public audit, whilst avoiding comment on the merits of Government policy objectives.
The Public Audit Forum is chaired by Amyas Morse, Comptroller and Auditor General and includes Eugene Sullivan, Chief Executive , Audit Commission, Robert Black, Auditor General for Scotland, Gillian Body, Auditor General for Wales, Kieran Donnelly, Northern Ireland Comptroller and Auditor General and other senior representatives of the four national audit agencies. It meets up twice a year at the headquarters of each agency in turn. It takes decisions on the Forum’s work programme and approves its outputs.
In November 2002, the Public Audit Forum (PAF) Heads of Agencies reviewed the operation of the consultative forum. They noted the consultative forum had played a very effective role over the last five years in supporting the PAF’s purpose of providing a focus for developmental thinking about public audit. They decided however there was a need to reconstitute the membership of the consultative forum to reflect the evolution of post-devolution arrangements and the outcome of the Sharman review. The Heads of Agencies recognised the continuing importance of close liaison and consultation between public auditors and their clients but considered it was no longer effective to attempt to encompass all the agencies’ diverse clients’ interests within the forum. Individual public audit agencies had developed their own arrangements for consulting clients and others with interests in their areas. For example, in central government the Audit Liaison Group was likely to act as the main focus for Whitehall-National Audit Office liaison.
The Heads of Agencies therefore decided to reconstitute the forum as an audit group which would continue to support the objectives of the Public Audit Forum and contain representatives of the public audit agencies, their private sector suppliers and the Treasury (as observer) and continue to be supported by the existing secretariat.